Capital committed to make up for stumbling down the stretch
THE SCHEDULE says that Capital played just one season last year, but it sure felt like two - split almost down the middle.
The Cougars burst out of the gate with a 4-0 start, cranking out better than 43 points per game and rising all the way to No. 4 in the Class AAA playoff ratings.
Then the second half of the schedule hit - with a thud.
Capital wound up with an inordinate amount of injuries at midseason, lost several key players and - more importantly - several key games. The Cougars limped home with a 5-5 record, missing the postseason, and were left scratching their heads wondering: What if?
"To tell you the truth,'' said Capital coach Jon Carpenter, "I'm glad [this season] is here. It's a chance to put that behind us. I'm tired of making excuses about injuries and all that. That stuff happens, and you've got to be good enough to overcome it.
"I think we're pushing them a little harder this year, and I think they understand that.''
Some of Capital's top players echoed their coach's assessment following Tuesday's workout under scorching, near-90-degree heat at Laidley Field. They don't want to bury last year's disappointments under the turf, but would rather use them as incentive for what they missed.
"We definitely remember it,'' said junior running back James Richmond. "That's just going to push us so we can work harder and let us not have another season like that.''
Davon Tyson, a senior safety, said last year's free fall "motivates us more'' for the coming season.
"We've got to work harder,'' said Tyson, who has started 22 straight games. "We can't take no days off. Even when we ain't got to work, we've got to keep going.''
Junior Carrington Morris, a returning starter at quarterback, also pointed to the motivation factor.
"We plan on getting corrections for what we did last year,'' Morris said. "We know what we did. We understand what we have to do so that it doesn't happen again, so we can get ourselves in the playoffs.''
A year ago, Capital lost five of its final six games to drop out of the playoff hunt. In four of those setbacks, the Cougars managed a total of just 28 points.
There were mitigating factors. First, five of those final six games were against teams that qualified for the AAA playoffs. Second, Capital finished the season without seven starters because of season-ending injuries.
The rash spread quickly and severely. In the first eight plays of Game 5 against Hurricane, the Cougars lost three of their top players - lineman Taylor Hurst (knee), Richmond (knee) and fullback-linebacker Dustin Pullin (broken leg). Only Richmond would eventually return.
A week later during practice, two-year starting quarterback Tyler McClaskie dislocated a shoulder and was gone for the year.
"We had our share of it,'' Carpenter said. "I remember when we played [George Washington] we had more people in sweat suits than uniforms. There's nothing you can do about it. Some of those were freak accidents. I know that nobody at that end of our schedule felt sorry for us.
"I think our kids understand now that if you want to beat teams like Morgantown or Martinsburg, you have to prepare your body in the offseason - [to avoid] a lot of those nagging injuries. Lifting weights is as much injury prevention as anything. Some guys didn't prepare as much as they should have and got nagging injuries and they just couldn't get over it. I think a lot of these guys have done a little more this year to get ready, and that should help us keep more people in uniforms.''
Morris led the Cougars to a late-season upset win at Cabell Midland by hitting on 13-of-18 passes for 129 yards and two touchdowns, but they couldn't keep the momentum going, losing three straight to GW, Woodrow Wilson and Huntington to end the season.
"Some people probably wasn't ready to step up,'' Morris said. "I mean, they thought they may have been ready. I thought I may have been ready, but maybe in reality I wasn't. That was a big key.''
Carpenter thinks that the hard-knocks experience his players received at the end of last season - using plenty of freshmen and sophomores to fill in the void - could pay off this time around.
"We got danced on a little bit at the end of the year,'' he said. "That's probably the bad taste you get. You get whipped a couple times, you get embarrassed. That'll be the tale of this season - if our guys bounce back from that. Life gets tough. That's why football parallels life. You don't fight back when it gets tough, it's a long season, a long life.
"Was it Willie Nelson who said, 'God only made one mistake: He wasted experience on old people?' We don't have many seniors. The way high school football is now, if you start as a ninth grader [it helps later]. We had several guys play a lot. Now you're really a sophomore, but we've got a lot of 10th graders who played a lot on Friday nights. That could remedy some of things we went through last year.''
Reach Rick Ryan at 304-348-5175 or email@example.com.